While Pennsylvania is ranked 17th in national wind energy production, a state environmental advocacy group thinks the commonwealth can do better.
According to a report released today by the PennEnvironment Research and Policy Center, wind energy is already providing more than 2.2 million megawatt-hours of electricity in Pennsylvania, and the group expects that number to rise 97 percent in the next five years.
Erika Staaf, a clean water advocate for PennEnvironment, said the use of wind has avoided more than 1.3 million metric tons of carbon pollution — the equivalent of taking more than 278,000 cars off the road.
“Gas extraction and coal production requires vast amounts of water, so that’s water that’s saved,” she said. “And we know that both of these sources of energy produce air pollution and climate pollution, so the more we can displace that from all sectors of our energy picture, the more that we’re going to be improving our environment.”
The report states wind energy saves more than 596.7 million gallons of water per year, enough to meet the needs of 28,681 people.
According to the Pennsylvania Public Utilities Commission, wind accounts for only 3 percent of the total electricity generated in Pennsylvania, while coal-fired plants produce about 34 percent of the state’s electricity.
Staaf said the more traditional energy industries have an unfair advantage when it comes to federal support.
“There are permanent subsidies sort of built into our tax code that support fossil fuel production energy industries and don’t support the renewable industry,” she said.
Between 2002 and 2008, the fossil fuel industry received $72 billion in subsidies, while the renewable industry got $29 billion, according to Staaf.
She said wind energy’s growth in the last decade is a direct result of federal incentives like the renewable energy production tax credits, but if that growth is going to continue the state needs to expand its Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard (AEPS).
“It (the AEPS) wasn’t perfect,” Staaf said. “There were aspects of it that we certainly disagreed with, but in terms of promoting wind and solar, it was great. It’s lagged over the years and has not been as effective as promoting these burgeoning sources of energy as it should be.”
Pennsylvania’s AEPS was created in 2004 and requires each electric distribution company and supplier in the state to supply 8 percent of electricity using “tier 1” energy sources (solar, hydro, geothermal, wind) by 2020. The commonwealth’s 8 percent standard is overshadowed by neighboring states like Delaware and Maryland that have standards set above 20 percent.
Staaf called the lack of federal support a “disparity.”
“It’s really time to level the playing field to allow wind and other renewable sources to really have their fair shake and compete properly,” she said. “At that point is when we’re going to see it truly compete with traditional sources of energy.”